The forest is a little quieter today.
For the first time in a long time, I asked Libby's permission before I did something. She's constantly worried about my safety, despite her busy schedule, and it's partly owing to her influence that I have people going with me to check out the mountain range next week. She is proof that fists can be influential.
I expected her to turn down my request. She would've been in her right to do so. It was a dangerous undertaking. But, no, she let me go. I'm not sure why I asked, or what I expected her to say, but she let me go.
Maybe because she knows how important Barrel is to me. She likes him too. He saved her life. I remember her playing with him, back in our old house… those were the days…
I went alone. I didn't want to endanger anyone else, and I hoped that June would have my back. She has expectations, and the fact that she told me to talk to Barrel made me feel more at ease in approaching his den. She wouldn't risk my life. She still needs me for something.
I wish somebody would need me for something normal. Like, say, Libby wants me for the mating thing. With the thinger. That would be great. More of that, less of the destiny shit most people pile on my head.
I trekked through the rows of redwood trees in silence, following the slope into the valley in the depths of the forest. It didn't take too long before I was at the bottom, scrabbling through the tracks left over by my last visit here. I hesitated plenty of times on my way to Barrel's den, but each time memories of him impelled me to take a few more steps.
Our first meeting in the king's tower.
I rounded a corner. I could hear his heavy breathing.
The first time I saw his scars.
Smoke rose and billowed from an unseen nose.
The first time he licked me.
A faint, almost gentle roar, followed by one of greater aggravation - perhaps even frustration.
Saving me from the hole, from a polar bear, from werewolves.
The flick of a massive tail, the shifting of an enormous body stuck halfway inside a cave.
That wry look when I lied and said he could use magic.
I tripped in the snow, shaken by the movement of a creature of legend getting to its feet, watching and waiting for somebody to come into view.
His sudden appearance in the hole, a saviour to over a dozen people. To my wife and unborn child. An unborn child that would torment him months later.
"Go, buddy. Go find your own kind."
Barrel loomed over me, as he always has, larger-than-life and more intimidating than any creature ever born. Yet there was no anger in his eyes, no hint of attack, only sadness and frustration and hormonal despair. A pleading desire to be forgiven.
"Yeah. Go. Go on. I'll be okay."
Barrel's ragged wings erupted out of his back, hidden by whatever power makes dragons exist. He stared skyward, brushing back trees with his snout, slapped his tail in the snow -
- threw me one last mournful look -
- and left. I took cover as globs of white and a shower of twisted, broken branches rained down around Barrel's clearing, and when I emerged I caught the sun filtering down from above. It cast a jagged circle of light in the snow, illuminating Barrel's launch pad.
Somewhere, far above, Barrel roared his goodbye.
I made up my mind last night. I have no regrets, even if it means I have to walk to the mountain.
Bye, Barrel. I don't know if I'll ever see you again. I hope I do. Have fun mating.
Dragomir the Mayor